Romans 4:1-12 – Saved by Grace Through Faith

“Abraham Journeying to the Land of Canaan” by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664); The Fitzwilliam Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/abraham-journeying-to-the-land-of-canaan-5550

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man:

Fortunate those whose crimes are whisked away,
    whose sins are wiped clean from the slate.
Fortunate the person against
    whom the Lord does not keep score.

Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised? Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God? We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?

Now think: Was that declaration made before or after he was marked by the covenant rite of circumcision? That’s right, before he was marked. That means that he underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with himself, an act of God he had embraced with his whole life.

And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the “outs” with God, as yet unidentified as God’s, in an “uncircumcised” condition. It is precisely these people in this condition who are called “set right by God and with God”! Abraham is also, of course, father of those who have undergone the religious rite of circumcision not just because of the ritual but because they were willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them, the way Abraham lived long before he was marked by circumcision. (The Message)

“Abraham Journeys Forth into the Unknown” by Yoram Raanan

We all need help. Yes, we like our independence and would rather give help than receive it. Yet, there are some things which we can do nothing about without some divine intervention. This is where faith comes into the picture.

“Faith” is a big word in Holy Scripture and in the Christian life. Faith encompasses the totality of how we come to Jesus Christ, and then how we live for him. In talking about faith, it is important to distinguish between the faith which saves us from guilt, shame, sin, death, and hell, and the faith which sanctifies and makes us holy. 

“Salvation” and “sanctification” are also big words in Scripture and in life. If we are fuzzy on our understanding and application of these two spiritual realities of salvation and sanctification, we are going to end up sleepwalking through life as spiritual zombies.

Christianity’s answer to the vital help we need for deliverance is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This deliverance, or salvation, only occurs by faith. A person is “saved” by knowing about Jesus and his finished work on the cross and trusting that this work has taken care of my need for salvation, once for all. 

Christ sacrificed himself for us. He took our place. The punishment that belonged to us, he bore. When we acknowledge our lost and wayward lives, and believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then we are delivered and experience salvation from the awful emptiness of life. 

A person cannot earn this deliverance; they cannot buy it or work for it. No, salvation is a gift that comes only by faith in the person and work of Jesus. That is the essence of saving faith in Christianity. It is a one-time event of trust.

“Sanctification,” on the other hand, is what begins when becoming a believer in Jesus. The word simply means “to become holy,” or, “to be set apart for God.” Sanctification is not a singular event, but a process Christians engage in for the rest of their earthly lives. 

Whereas saving faith is a gift given to us without effort, sanctification requires a great deal of effort. We work and struggle and expend lots of energy to live the Christian life. 

“Grace [God’s gift to us in granting forgiveness] is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” 

Dallas Willard

When a student gets a college scholarship at a university, the giving of the scholarship is a one-time event. It is granted to the student. They now possesses it and are able to attend school without trying to earn the money to pay for it. 

But that scholarship has been given for a reason – so that the student can now focus entirely on their studies and/or sport. The work has just begun. More blood, sweat, and tears will take place living into that scholarship than the student could ever imagine. It won’t be easy, and it will consume the student’s waking hours for the next four years.

Our life is a matter of faith, not of sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7, GNT

The biblical character of Abraham is Exhibit A of faith. He was delivered from an empty way of life in a pagan country and given a gift of grace to move to the country God would show him. Abraham did nothing to earn this favor. Before Abraham chose God, God chose him. 

Abraham sojourned as a pilgrim throughout the land God gave him, which mirrored his spiritual sojourning and learning to be a follower of God. Abraham likely faced the greatest test of faith a person could ever experience; he was asked to sacrifice his son. He responded to God with complete obedience.

Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did; and it occurred well before his circumcision of being physically marked as belonging to God. 

We are made right not on our own but through the sheer grace of God in Christ by faith. Then, we continue to exercise faith by living into the righteousness given to us by the mercy of God.

God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it.

Ephesians 2:4-9, GNT

God grants his faith scholarships to whomever he wants: rich and poor, men and women, from every race, ethnicity, and background imaginable across the entire earth. 

From the standpoint of faith, Abraham did nothing to receive God’s gracious scholarship of faith. He did not work for it. It was granted to him solely because of God’s grace. Then, his faith was confirmed and proven as genuine by his life of faith and obedience.

Therefore, our own deliverance and ability to live rightly is firmly rooted in faith – and not by holding a prominent position, having a particular pedigree, or expending personal power. All of humanity needs the saving help of Jesus Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I receive that gift with a grateful heart. Amen.

Confess and Believe

Welcome, friends, to this Christian season of Lent. Holy Scripture graciously communicates that everyone who believes in their heart, with a faith which bubbles up and come pouring out of the mouth, shall be saved. Click the videos below, and let us consider God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ…

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Romans 10:8b-13

Forgive those things we have done, O God,
which have caused you sadness,
and those things we should have done
that would have brought you joy.
In both we have failed
ourselves,
and you.
Bring us back to that place
where our journey began,
when we said that we would follow
the way that you first trod.
Lead us to the Cross
and meet
us there. Amen.

Romans 10:8b-13 – Believe and Confess

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. ”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (New International Version)

Confess with the Mouth

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Oxford don who became an Anglican priest. He had all the intellectual tools to rightly handle the intricacies of theology and teach the Bible. Yet, when he first started out, there was no heart behind it. 

On a voyage across the Atlantic to America, Wesley spent much of the time on the ship with a group of German pietists – men and women who had a heart behind their practice of Christianity. The Germans deeply impressed Wesley, and he realized there was something important missing from his own religion. 

The ship encountered a storm and Wesley was afraid for his life. But the German believers seemed unfazed, having a heart-faith that John could not explain. He wanted what they had. Wesley was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. So, he confessed to one of them his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. One of the Pietists advised, “Preach faith till you have it. And then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

John Wesley acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. He was astonished. Here was a man transformed instantly. Wesley cried out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, he still felt dull inside and little motivation even to pray for his own salvation. 

Statue of John Wesley as a young preacher, by Adam Carr, located in Melbourne, Australia

Having returned back to England, Wesley was in a church service listening to Romans expounded by the preacher. He recalled the experience years later: “While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Believe with the Heart

Simply uttering the words with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” by itself does not create deliverance and salvation. The heart needs to be involved. Yet, we must also consider the reality that only focusing on the heart, without having the mouth involved, is an insufficient faith. Christian belief has a solid objective real historical base from which our hearts can tether themselves. Christian confession affirms that Jesus is, indeed, risen from death and is Lord of all, having secured salvation for us through his shed blood on the cross.

Consider two hypothetical men at the time of the Passover in Egypt: Eleazar Ben Macaroni and Yakov Yarmulke. Eleazar and Yakov are talking together on the night the angel of death is about to pass through Egypt and the firstborn son in every family would be killed – that is, unless the blood from a sacrificial lamb was over the door of the house so that the angel would “pass over” the house and no one would be killed. 

Passover Angel of Death, by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)

Yakov says to Eleazar, “Can you believe all that has been happening around here?  It’s all very scary!  All of those plagues, the disaster around us, and now this night!”  Eleazar asks, “Well, haven’t you put the blood over the door?”  “Yes, I’ve done all that – but it all is still disturbing.  My heart is troubled.  What do think will happen?” “Will we be okay?” asks Yakov nervously.  Eleazar responds, “I trust in the promises of God; let the angel come!”

So, when the angel of death came, which house do you suppose lost his firstborn son: Eleazar ben Macaroni, or Yakov Yarmulke?  The answer: neither of them. The angel of death did not come to either man’s house because deliverance is determined by the blood of the lamb and not by the quality or intensity of faith of the person. 

“For me His precious blood he shed – for me His life He gave. I need no other argument, I need no other plea; it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, hymn by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920)

If we only focus on the heart, our hearts will condemn us. We need to say the words of our faith, to confess them with our mouths, repeatedly, again and again, until we believe them. We are not to wait for our hearts to feel like having faith and living for God, because our hearts can be desperately wicked, and they will keep deceiving us. The heart needs to be informed by God’s Word and accept the words of Holy Scripture by faith:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Have the Heart and Mouth Work Together

We need both a right confession with our mouths and a right confession in our hearts for saving faith. When the heart receives grace, and the mouth expresses the beauty of faith – when heart and mouth work in concert with each other – something beautiful and gracious happens: 

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:13

When Holy Scripture says “everyone,” it means “everyone.” All who cry out to God with their mouths, from a heart desiring God, will be saved. It does not matter whether that call is melodious, sweet, and in tune; or whether the call is a jumbled off-key joyful noise. It makes no difference; both will be saved. 

Only uttering the right words like some magical incantation does not save us. Only sincerity of heart does not save us. One does not achieve salvation through self-effort or trying to be worthy. No one is saved by finding the right combination of words in prayer or having a nice feeling.

Calling on the name of the Lord with both mouth and heart, trusting in the redemptive events of Jesus Christ, is what saves us.

Whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, American or Arab, famous or infamous, it is no matter – because salvation isn’t dependent on our looks, our past, or our zeal in doing good works. Salvation is completely from God and freely given to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Make No Room for Shame

What’s more, all who trust in Jesus Christ will never be put to shame. In ancient Roman society, nearly three-fourths of all the people in the Empire were slaves to the other one-fourth. It was a culture built around the concept of honor and shame. It was shameful to be a slave, and honorable to be privileged, wealthy, and influential with a good Roman pedigree and citizenship. It was beneath such people to interact with those who served them because dealing with shameful people would make them shameful, as well.

Jesus forsook his honorable position in order to hob-nob with us rabble. He became one of us to save us and lift us up with him.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.” 

2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV

Jesus embraced the shame of the cross. Therefore, we need never live in a state of shame ever again. Our hearts need not condemn us. Jesus has already taken care of shame, once for all.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)

Put a Focus on Lent

The season of Lent lets us know we are neither brains-on-a-stick nor walking-headless-hearts. We have both heart and mouth, both deep feeling and real intellectual knowledge. Together, they form belief and confession. Lent is an invitation to prepare our hearts for Christ’s passion and resurrection. It includes an examination of our hearts so that we can deepen our piety and devotion to Jesus. And it incorporates confession of Jesus with the mouth.

The good news is this: Jesus is Savior and Lord; he has risen from death; and there is forgiveness of sins and deliverance from guilt and shame through is cross. When all is said and done, people need the Lord.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” said Jesus. (Matthew 9:13)

Repentance involves both heart and mouth. And Lent is just the season for it, to turn from everything we have previously been living for other than Jesus. It’s an opportunity to start afresh with new life in Christ. It’s enough to make old John Wesley smile from the grave.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Save me from guilt and shame and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

Romans 8:1-11 – Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (New International Version)

I feel tremendously privileged to be a Christian and enjoy the very Spirit of God. The people of God are spiritual people, possessing God’s own Spirit. The Apostle Paul wanted Christians to know what they truly have as believers in Jesus.

No Condemnation

There is now no condemnation, no judgment, for those who are in Christ. God has pronounced a verdict, and that decision is final. We have been united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God condemns neither you nor I, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other believers.

Since no condemnation is our reality as Christians, we are to believe this promise of God and swim in its wonderful privilege. 

Believe that the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. 

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. It would be silly because you did not put yourself in a position to actually become clean. You may believe that a shower and using soap and shampoo will make you clean, but if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of actually taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not really be clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of knowing our wonderful state of cleanliness and no condemnation by actually reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony; he declares a blessing. Yet, from that point forward, the two people must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together. They will intentionally create date nights and conversations on the couch. They’ll seek to learn, appreciate, and participate in the other’s interests and life. 

“Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”

Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. However, having a marriage license does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between two married persons.

It is a beautiful thing to be in a relationship where there is no condemnation. Because of Jesus Christ we are free to be the people God created us to be – forgiven and no longer burdened by sin’s condemnation.

Freedom from Sin and Death

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only a personal struggle but a present ubiquitous reality in the world. The power and presence of sin is found everywhere. There is personal, institutional, and systemic sin. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death doesn’t only refer to physical death but is also a relational term referring to spiritual death. Death means relational separation from God. Conversely, life is relational connection with God. 

God did all the action necessary to make the union possible. God sent the Son. God became incarnate. God’s Son became a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. 

Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience life through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word work together to effect practical change in our lives. 

Having the Mind of Christ

A problem we all face is that we inhabit a fallen world. Our mindset can easily get screwy. If we want life and peace, we need the mind of Christ and the Spirit. Whatever our minds are occupied with, that’s what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the objects of our thoughts, interests, and affections are continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will experience death, not life. If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, we will miss real life. A loose mind only leads to relational separation.

The addict knows very well that there are two choices, life or death. The first of twelve steps in Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that I am powerless over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn my life and my will over to that Power. So, it is the same for us. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. But in the Spirit (and not in the alcoholic spirits) we have life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and my will to God. Yet, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life comes with possessing the mind of Christ and the Spirit. 

We have hope that through the Spirit’s power that we will overcome the power of choices that lead to death, and instead, embrace choices that lead to life. So, whatever we put into our minds is vitally important. 

The Spirit Indwelling Us

The Spirit is the sine qua non of the Christian life, that is, the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. There’s no need to try and live the Christian life on our own power when we possess spiritual power.

Pentecost by Edgardo De Guzman

There exists an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. Yet, the indwelling Spirit gives us victory. Jesus lived the life for us that we could not live. His life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. 

The very same Spirit that helped Jesus live his life, and raised him from death, is the same Spirit whom we possess.

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning preserves. I would sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch her, looking forward to having some grape preserves on my next piece of toast. I once asked her, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. 

Grandma answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” As an amateur in the canning business, I could see the importance of picking grapes, boiling them, and canning them. But I now know how important sealing and preserving are.

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chose us, redeemed us, and called us to life in the Son – God also had a plan for preserving us as heirs of eternal life. God gave us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live as we ought, free from sin and doing the will of God through spiritual power working within us. 

I hope today that you have a deep appreciation for the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ and the power of the indwelling Spirit. And more than that, that you will avail yourselves of this tremendous gift of the Spirit and experience life and peace.

Gracious God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. May we live lives worthy of the Lord Jesus and please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you.  For you have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.